Question: Can I $pend Myself To Total Happiness?

Recently, there have been several posts encountered that referred to a study divulging, money itself is not the root of happiness. It plotted the level of happiness for people earning various levels of annual income. The study found that peak happiness was found with people having annual salaries around $60K/year. Above that amount, there was no incremental increase to happiness and possibly even a decline.  Of course, comments to these posts came passionately on both of the “it does” and “it does not” sides of the argument.

The study recanted the reasoning: Peak happiness was gained when able to meet one’s basic personal and family needs – enough food, shelter, water, clothing etc. – to sustain life. Over and above this amount, the people were not satisfied with what they had, and strove for more. Like the children’s story, “If You Give A Moose A Muffin”[1], people will see others with more and feel deserving that they should have that as well. Therefore, if one earns $100K/year, they feel unfulfilled because if they could only earn $150K per year, life would be better.  At $150K, they have better stuff, but still feel unfulfilled and want $200K to feel even better, with better stuff and better, more exotic vacations etc. What transpires is a feeling of unhappiness and unsettling of the soul, constantly searching for meaning and that elusive total happiness.  Further deepening the unhappiness state occurs when a person actually starts purchasing the goods, affordable at the next salary level, before one gets there, adding mounting debt to fuel the need to push their salary rate higher and faster.

Happiness and Pleasure are two terms that become confused when used in a sentence and are frequently thought of as synonyms for each other. When one talks about happiness or being happy, one is frequently really talking about being in the midst of or basking in the completion of one or more pleasurable acts.

Now, comparing “Happiness” to “Pleasure”, what differentiates them? How much does it cost to attain either? Pleasure is expensive. When one talks about attaining pleasure, usually one talks about having the means to and buying that new car; going on exotic vacation trips; going to some highly recommended and expensive restaurant, or even having sex. Each of these events would provide pleasure, a lot of it. The downside: the pleasure comes, it peaks then wanes away. To fill one’s life with pleasure, means constantly finding, buying, doing pleasurable things. Pleasure can also be addictive. It drives one’s life to buy, do and get more pleasure. As any addictive drug, the more one dives into pleasure, that pleasurable duration of building up, peaking and waning becomes shorter with each play as well. The addiction builds the need for higher frequency and number of pleasurable things purchased and done. One can see how an addiction to pleasure can be quite expensive and drive the need for a higher salary to support.

Happiness, on the other hand, is truly free. Even during the attainment of one’s basic needs period, happiness is there for free as well. The key for happiness is to create a virtue of happiness, to put one’s self in a good and virtuous position. Appreciate your God given gifts, e.g. your family. My family is a source of daily happiness. God’s gifts are freely given and; therefore, are free of charge. When I want a boost of happiness, I just gaze at my wife and kids and become immersed in their presence. I share in their love and the Jesus in their hearts infused there by God. If I want another boost, I walk outside and gaze and become immersed in the wonders and beauty that God has created and given to me in nature – free of charge.

Happiness is not about me putting together a plan to earn more money to “buy happiness”. Happiness is about appreciating and being thankful for the things that I have. It is about taking the time to embrace the wonders that God has put right here for me. It is about believing that God, having loved me so much to provide me with everything I need, will continue to love me so much to give me what I need to get to Heaven. That is our real goal, right? We do not get into Heaven by showing off to Jesus at the Pearly Gates all the toys and fancy vacations we have purchased and own.

So, why do we strive and work ourselves to death to hit that next salary level or goal? One can lose sight of the God made beauty, joy and peace right here for the taking/enjoying and, instead, put in place artificial means to earn/buy those feelings. We humans always fail miserably when we try to out think, out plan and out spend God. It just doesn’t work. I want to end with St. Augustine’s famous quote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. We will never be at rest, in peace, in total happiness until our hearts truly rest in our Lord and not in our pleasure – our possessions and leisure expenditures. Gain true happiness. Gaze on the beauty of our Lord and be enveloped by all His beauty, love, joy and peace. Amen

[1] “If You Give A Moose A Muffin” by Laura Numeroff, Harper Collins Publishers, 1991

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